The common name oak is from Anglo Saxon ac and Old Norse eik, which mean “fruit” or “acorn”. Alternative names include Black Oak, Female Oak, Macey-tree, Tom Paine, Stalk-fruited Oak, Trail (referring to male catkins), Tanner’s Bark and Sussex Weed (because so many trees grow in that county).
In folklore the oak was held in high esteem throughout Europe, venerated in association with the supreme gods of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Slavs and Teutonic tribes. The Druids held their rites and worshipped in oak groves and the name Druid is thought to mean “men of the oaks”, a Gaelic derivation of duir, their word for oak. Mistletoe was a potent and magical plant to Druids and often grew on oaks. Ancient kings wore crowns of oak leaves, symbolizing the gods they represented on Earth. The great respect for oak held by the Celts filtered through into the Christian religion, with many early churches being built near the sites of pagan oak groves. Carvings of oak leaves, acorns and even galls are found in many older parish churches and in most English cathedrals, sometimes openly displayed, often hidden away discreetly under misericords or high up in the roof. So-called “Gospel Oaks” were often significant stopping points in the ceremony of “beating the bounds”, which is thought to have originated in an ancient pagan practice connected to fertility rites!
Oak has excellent strength and elasticity and was much used in shipbuilding, giving rise to the phrases “Hearts of Oak” and “The Wooden Walls of England”, the ships protecting our shores from invasion. Charles II made the 29th of May “Royal Oak Day” after his restoration in 1660, honouring the oak because he was supposed to have hidden in one while hiding from Cromwell’s men during the Civil War. The day was a public holiday and people wore oak sprigs and sometimes oak apples covered with gold leaf in honour of the Crown. An alternative name for this day is “Oak Apple Day”. A connection with royalty continues in Scotland, as the oak leaf is the badge of the Royal Clan Stewart.
The Celts believed oak to have the power to preserve youth, protect from lightning and cure toothache and bruised leaves were used to heal wounds.. Some medical properties of the tree have been known for many centuries but in more modern times the bark has been used to treat ague, haemorrhages, chronic diarrhoea, dysentry, bleeding gums, piles and sore throats, as well as being an alternative to quinine for treating fevers, when mixed with chamomile flowers. Powdered acorns and bark, mixed with milk, were thought to be an antidote for poison and snuff was sometimes made from powdered bark.
Other uses of oak bark include the tanning of leather and the making of dyes of various colours when mixed with other substances. Acorns were a traditional food for pigs over many centuries but they have also been used to supplement human food, especially in times of shortage, being dried and ground into flour or made into a coffee substitute.
When I was growing up, Dad had an abandoned hog barn that the sisters and I used to play house. We would gather acorns, put them in an old tea kettle, add water and let soak. The next day this brown mixture would be our "pretend" coffee. When my little sister sampled it one day, I lay through an entire nap time afraid that she was going to die!
The most interesting point here is that these 2 oaks were growing up from the same spot in the ground. I paid no attention to the trees located at Eddy's cousin's house on Lake of the Ozarks until I was up on the top deck of the house and realized from looking at the leaves, that these were two separate trees intertwining at the top. I thought that the one on the left was some type of red oak, but had never really encountered the one on the right. I just assumed that it wasn't an oak at all until I saw the acorns. After consulting my tree book here at home, it resembles both the swamp chestnut oak and the English oak. Given it's proximity to the lake and birds that would inhabit a water environment, perhaps it is a swamp oak. Still interesting to learn about. I regret not getting a pic of the trunks for my post her and the above collage.